Best known as one of the first artists to clip from popular periodicals and rearrange the pieces to create a unique composite work, Hannah Höch was one of the "inventors" of the photomontage medium. Now, 18 years after her death, the German artist is being honored by Walker Art Center with the first retrospective of her photomontage work in the United States--an exhibition that is long overdue.
The show begins by examining Höch's roots in traditionally female areas such as embroidery, lace and wallpaper, and goes on to show how she used these design skills while layering and adjoining the many images included in each piece. The only female Dadaist, Höch made photomontages that paste together a portrait of Berlin from the 1920s through post-WW II. With intelligent wit, her political and social satire lampooned the German Reich President, addressed the questionable status of the "New Woman" (The Coquette II, 1923-25) and exposed racial and cultural taboos (Love in the Bush, 1925).
A highlight in the exhibition was a room painted creamy blue and hung with delicately floating scenes full of biomorphic imagery with the fantasy of Surrealist art (Fata Morgana, 1957). Later, she would increasingly work in abstraction, to finally return to the subject of the woman in a series of indulgent, almost shrill 1960's photomontages (Grotesque, 1963).
The exhibition was fresh and alive. It demonstrated that the quandaries of a society overwhelmed with the chaos of images in a mass media culture are not only acute today, but have existed throughout most of the 20th century.
After premiering at the Walker, Oct. 20, 1996-Feb. 2, 1997, the exhibition travels to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Feb. 26 - May 20, 1997, and the Los Angeles County Museum, June 26 - Sept. 14, 1997.
ROSANNE ALTSTATT is a critic and curator working in Cologne.